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Heybeliada Island Istanbul

Heybeliada Island Istanbul
This is the second largest of the Princes’ Islands and was once known as Halki.  


Heybeliada (Saddlebag Island) has a resident population of around 5,500 that expands considerably during the summer.  

Things to do in Heybeliada

Its many attractions are the same as you will find on Buyukada , with hillsides covered in pine trees, charming wooden houses and is peacefully quiet, having no motor vehicles.  It is easy to walk around the island as it only covers an area of 2km or you can use the horse-drawn phaeton carriages or ride bicycles.

Take the long tour (büyük tur) on a horse-drawn phaeton carriage which will take you on a complete circuit of the island or the short tour (küçük tur) that takes you around the immediate area of the ferry terminal.


Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher, recorded that copper was mined on Halki which actually means copper in  Greek; the mines closed long ago although there was an attempt to reopen them in the 19th century. The island’s Turkish name derives from “heybe” which means saddlebag and so called because of the dip that appears between the pine-forest hills there that makes it looks like a one.  

The names of the hills here are; Hope Hill (Ümit Tepesi) 85m (278ft), Windmill Hill (Değirmen Tepesi) 136m (446ft), Village Hill (Köy Tepesi) 128m (420ft) and Son of the Woodcutter Hill (Baltacıoğlu Tepesi) 98m (322ft), and none are as high as you will find on Buyukada but there are more of them.  

Wealthy Christians escaped here during the outbreaks of plague in Istanbul in the 16th century, it suffered a large fire and a series of earthquakes in the early 20th century, and in 1924 a sanatorium built at Yeşil Burnu helped restore the island’s prosperity.  It grew in popularity after Ismet Inönü, Turkey’s first prime minister and second president of the Republic, stayed here and who always maintained a link with the island; the sanatorium closed in 2006.  It was always famous for its seminary that trained Greek Orthodox priests and which closed in 1971, although there remains and on-going struggle between the Turks and Greeks to have it reopened.  

Places to Visit in Heybeliada

The Prominent

On the shoreline close to the landing stage is a wide promenade lined with seats that commemorate the many prominent writers of Turkey, two of which lived on the island; Hüseyin Rahmi Gürpınar (1864-1944) the famous writer and politician and Ahmed Rasim (1865-1932) who was a journalist, writer and historian.

Churches and Monastries of Heybeliada

Church of Hagios Nikolaos

There is the brightly painted Church of Hagios Nikolaos (St. Nicholas) in Heybeliada’s main village that was built in 1857 on the site of a much older Byzantine church and which was damaged by earthquake in 1894.  It was completely restored and inside its tower is a bell that was brought from Tsarist Russia.  

There is a sacred spring in the grounds dedicated to Hagia Paraskeve and during the summer the church is used by both Armenian and Syrian Orthodox Christians.  A mosque and synagogue are also nearby which give testament to the mixed population that once lived on the island.

Monastery of Hagios Georgios tou Kremnou

Believed to have been founded in 1583-1584 is the Monastery of Hagios Georgios tou Kremnou (St. George on the Cliff) which was a refuge during times of the plague for the Istanbul Greeks and is associated with Jerusalem, whose patriarch Nikodemos I, was buried here in 1910.

Monastery of Hagios Spyridon

At Pine Harbour (Çam Limanı) is the Monastery of Hagios Spyridon that dates from 1868 and started life as a tiny chapel.  After damage from an earthquake it was rebuilt in 1894 and although refurbished several times it now lies in ruins.

Monastery of Hagia Triada or Holy Trinity (Halki Seminary)

Although this monastery’s past history is rather
obscure it appears to have been built on Ümit Tepesi before the 9th century when Theodore, the abbot of the monastery of St. John the Studius on the mainland, was exiled here by Emperor Leo V because the emperor opposed iconoclasm.  After the emperor was assassinated and his wife and daughter also exiled to Halki, Theodore was taken to another monastery which meant there were at least two separate monasteries already existing here.  Patriarch Photius I, who was also exiled here two times, restored Hagia Triad, and on his death in 890 was buried at the monastery and later canonised becoming the patron saint of the school that grew up on the same site.  The monastery was destroyed in 1453 and not rebuilt until 1550 when Metrophanes III became patriarch, and not only did he oversee its construction he donated to the library over 300 books; some of these were moved to the Patriarchal Library in Fener and others lost to libraries overseas.  It received a much needed financial donation from Tsar Peter the Great of Russia (1672-1725) who believed his country to be the successor to Byzantium as “the Third Rome” and it was again rebuilt in 1773.  At the start of the Greek War of Independence in 1821 it was badly damaged and in 1844 the Halki Seminary was established only to be destroyed by an earthquake in 1894.  The whole complex was rebuilt, yet again, by architect Pericles Photiades in 1896 functioning as a school for young men who were entering the priesthood and became famous for the extensive library which attracted students from all over the Orthodox world.  It was forcibly closed in 1971 and talks between the Turks and Greeks to reopen it are still on-going today although there is and hope that this will happen in 2013.

Naval High School (Deniz Lisesi)

The school first opened on the island in 1773 but moved soon after to Kasimpasa and returned to Heybeliada in the mid 19th century.  When Turkey became a Republic it was renamed the Naval War Academy which moved to Tuzla in 1985 and since then the building has served as a naval high school.  It has had many famous visitors including Riza Phalavi, the second to last shah of Iran, Marshall Tito of Yugoslavia, and the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zülfikar Ali Bhutto.  
Church of the Panagia Kamariotissa
One of the island’s best attractions is unfortunately closed to casual visitors since it sits on land belonging to an active naval base and is the Church of the Panagia Kamariotissa (Our Lady of the Arches).  It was once part of a monastery with the same name that is now lost but which did contained the last church to be built in Byzantine times before the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453; religious artefacts that were housed here have been taken to the Halki Seminary.  The church was the last resting place for six of Istanbul’s patriarchs that included Cyril Lucaris who held the position no less than six times until he was executed by Sultan Murad IV in 1638.  Many Russian prisoners of war were incarcerated here during the Russo-Turkish War where 300 or so of them died and a memorial to them now stands on Aşıklar Yolu (Lovers Lane).  In 1923 during the Greco-Turkish population exchange, many displaced Greek children from Anatolia were housed in an orphanage set up in a school that was attached to the monastery.  
The Cemetery
There is a large cemetery in the grounds of the base which contain the remains of Edward Barton, the second ambassador to the Ottoman Court for Queen Elizabeth I of England and who died in 1597.  His gravestone has been moved to the English Cemetery that is near to the Selimiye Barracks.

Getting to Heybeliada

Take the regular high speed ferry from Kabatas , Kadikoy or Bostanci ( and note they will be extremely busy at weekends and on school holidays.

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